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Business Observer Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 2 weeks ago

Tampa Bay Innovation Center

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Booming tech sector keeps an eye on inflation, which could curb investment dollars, as it celebrates huge wins.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Entity: Tampa Bay Innovation Center

Tampa Bay Innovation Center, led by Tonya Elmore, is on a roll as it says goodbye to 2021 and welcomes 2022. The St. Petersburg organization — which offers a range of business coaching and accelerator programs, in addition to coworking space — finalized plans for a new, nearly $16 million facility in St. Pete’s Innovation District and then struck a naming-rights deal with ARK Investment Management. Led by tech investment superstar Cathie Wood, ARK recently moved its headquarters from New York City to St. Pete — a monumental coup for the region.

Threats

Inflation is the major threat facing the tech sector, says Elmore, president and CEO of the center. “Inflation and investment are tied together,” she says. “Investors will be more cautious — they’ll be putting their portfolios in more secure investment strategies and things like that; however, I do think there are still a lot of investment dollars out there.”

'Funding for startups will be key, but talent leads the way over capital. We have to get the talent.' Tonya Elmore, president and CEO of Tampa Bay Innovation Center

Talent recruitment and retention could also be tricky, Elmore adds, because of the massive workforce shifts wrought by the pandemic.

“Now individuals can work anywhere they want,” she says. “In the tech space, the challenge is getting the right talent on the team.”

Opportunities

TBIC will break ground on the 45,000-square-foot ARK Innovation Center in the first quarter of 2022, with an anticipated opening in July 2023. At the intersection of 4th Street South and 11th Avenue South, the facility will feature a 200-person event center, innovation lab, two classrooms, conference rooms and coworking space. Funding for the facility comes from ARK Investment Management, Pinellas County and the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Elmore says the partnership with ARK, which has more than $50 billion in assets under management and manages a popular ETF, is a game-changer for TBIC and the entire Tampa Bay tech sector.

“They have five key innovation platforms they target, which are AI, robotics, energy storage, genomics and blockchain,” she says. “We do all of those except for genomics — we just don’t have the lab space for it. We’re working on some other collaborative efforts [with ARK] that will probably be announced at the groundbreaking.”

Elmore says Wood has indicated she’ll bring her Big Ideas Summit to St. Pete, which would have a “phenomenal” impact on the region.

The new year, Elmore adds, should also bring more growth in the amount of venture capital available to startups, which had been the tech sector’s Achilles heel until recently. Last year saw the launch of a new investment fund, Tampa Bay Ventures, and Elmore says it’s likely that another fund or two will be started in 2022.

“Funding for startups will be key,” she says, “but talent leads the way over capital. We have to get the talent.”

— Brian Hartz

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